To anyone who hasn't seen this Christmas' Doctor Who special ("Last Christmas"), this entire post may be a spoiler.

There were, as far as I could see, four main plot points in "Last Christmas" (titles obfuscated to prevent spoilage):


Neither the Doctor nor any of the other dreamers could tell whether they were awake or asleep. (Despite the apparent ability of the dreamers' to sense a slight headache in their temple, this does not seem to have helped the doctor determine he was in a dream when he met old-Clara, so it may have just been part of the dream or it may be easily overlooked if the dreamer does not already suspect they are dreaming.)


Due to the dream crabs' ability to fold one dream within another, the dreamers were also unable to tell if they were actually waking up or not.


3. Santa was a product of the dreamers' subconscious. This was important, because it was how Clara first realized that she and the Doctor were part of the dream from the beginning ("Santa was on my roof").


4. Clara was expecting to see a wound on her temple as evidence of waking up (seeing as, according to the doctor, there should be a half-inch gap in her head/skull causing agony if not for the analgesic of their dream).


In the final shot of the episode, we see a tangerine (presumably left by Santa), indicating that they were not awake. Also, there was no wound on either the Doctor or Clara (or any of the others). Given that they seem unable to tell via any other means that they've awoken, are we supposed to assume that they are still sleeping? Or did the Doctor have some as yet undisclosed means for determining that, at last, they were both awake?

  • 3
    Or that Santa is just as real as the Doctor and had got in to help them somehow?
    – Liath
    Dec 28, 2014 at 21:04
  • 10
    Especially since Santa walked into the TARDIS immediately after the events of the last season finale...so did any of that actually happen? Maybe Missy's plan was to release dream crabs, rather than Cybermen. A dream sequence would certainly explain why the Colonel made a cameo.
    – Liesmith
    Dec 28, 2014 at 22:53
  • Or it's all Clara's dream. The Doctor always called her "impossible girl", but of course she wasn't, she was very normal. The Doctor however, is of course impossible, as she correctly surmised during the brief moment when she was awake. But then she went to sleep again and dreamt she was young again.
    – Mr Lister
    Dec 29, 2014 at 15:18

8 Answers 8


It's been confirmed by Moffat that everything until the last scene was a dream.


Speaking at the press launch for the special at London’s BFI earlier this month, the showrunner stated: “Everything except the very last scene is a dream.”

Moffat even added that Santa is in fact real and his whole point was to bring Clara and the Doctor together.

Moffat added: “The [last shot of the] tangerine represents the fact that Santa Claus obviously stage-managed the whole thing to get the Doctor and Clara back together.”

  • 1
    Now don't we wish we had the same sort of explanation by the writer at the end of Inception :p Dec 30, 2014 at 19:22
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    On that last line, I'd like to see a video so we could see Moffat's expression and hear his tone of voice when he said it, he might have been joking with the audience or indulging in the same playful ambiguity I talked about, rather than definitively stating his take on the plot.
    – Hypnosifl
    Dec 30, 2014 at 19:28
  • This does answer the final question, though there are still some unresolved issues. It's OK though... I'm sure the Doctor will explain it to me later, and then everything will make sense.
    – JDB
    Dec 30, 2014 at 19:36
  • For all we know the other people died and never woke up, we have unresolved issues about what happened that was real and what wasn't besides what happened to Clara and The Doctor. Or perhaps they never really existed. Dec 30, 2014 at 19:42
  • 4
    That's why I personally miss the Russell T. era. The episodes got clear by themselves by the end, and no further press explanation was necessary. Moffat tries to create complex stories but somehow he always manages to miss something. Jan 5, 2015 at 14:48

That's the point.

The "Was it real after all?" twist ending is traditional in these types of stories. TVTropes calls this the Schrodinger's Butterfly, after Zhuangzi's poem about being unsure if he is a butterfly dreaming that he's a man or a man who had a dream that he was a butterfly. The characters believe that they have woken up at last, and that the story is resolved, but the audience is left wondering whether it is true or not.

If this turns out typical for the trope, the creators will never specify one way or another, but the series will continue with the assumption that it is actually happening, because it must if it wishes to avoid being derailed by the episode in question. It's not impossible for the creators to address this in a later episode, but I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for it.

Later edit: Moffat has broken with tradition and outright said that the last scene was real, so that's one prediction debunked but the rest left intact.

  • 2
    Besides, later they can retcon several episodes' worth of events by revealing that it was all part of the dream.
    – Omegacron
    Dec 29, 2014 at 15:30
  • 1
    A spinning top comes to mind :)
    – Chahk
    Dec 29, 2014 at 17:39
  • Or Nightmare on Elm Street.
    – JDB
    Dec 29, 2014 at 18:42
  • 2
    To my knowledge, Doctor Who has never pulled such an ambiguous ending. Really, though, the evidence leans very heavily toward "they didn't wake up", which would have major repercussions for the rest of the series.
    – JDB
    Dec 29, 2014 at 19:34
  • @JDB Neither had Buffy until that one time they did. Dec 29, 2014 at 19:35

Why do you think the tangerine was "presumably left by Santa"? If there were presents under Clara's tree you probably wouldn't take this as evidence it was a dream, since it's a Christmas tradition for people to leave presents under the tree. In the same way, leaving oranges or tangerines for people to find (usually in stockings) is an old tradition (perhaps more common in the UK since I'd never heard of it before myself), so there's no reason to assume the one we saw at the end must have been left by Santa. I suspect the last shot was meant to suggest a winking note of ambiguity, not about whether they're in a dream, but about whether Santa actually exists in the world of Doctor Who (various non-TV adventures have suggested he might, and in the 11th Doctor episode 'A Christmas Carol' the Doctor had a photo that he claimed showed himself with Santa Claus and Albert Einstein at Frank Sinatra's hunting lodge). But I'd guess the writers were imagining it was probably just left there by some member of Clara's household.

  • You are, of course, correct... we don't know who left the tangerine. But I don't think it would have factored so prominently into the final shot if we weren't meant to think that Santa might have left it. The most striking evidence in my opinion is the absence of a wound. The Doctor was very clear that the Dream Crabs cut a rather large hole in your head that would lead to excruciating pain, necessitating the dreams as an analgesic. The absence of such a wound was Clara's first hint that she didn't awake. So where's the wound?
    – JDB
    Dec 30, 2014 at 19:17
  • I agree we were meant to think he might have left it, that's what I meant by "winking ambiguity"--I think we were meant to conclude with our adult minds that there was probably an ordinary explanation for it, but also think with our childlike still-believing-in-Santa-Claus minds "Could it be?..." As for the head wounds, time worked differently in dreams, so it might have been that the crabs had only had time to inject the anesthetic but not enough time to start drilling through the skull.
    – Hypnosifl
    Dec 30, 2014 at 19:27
  • 1
    According to DoctorWho22's answer, Moffat has explicitly confirmed that Santa left the tangerine, is real and orchestrated the entire event to bring the Doctor and Clara back together. So I suppose my original presumption was correct, except that Santa actually is real and is not necessarily solely a figment of their shared dream. It's not the most cohesive storyline ever, but DW has never bothered as much with cohesion as most other sci-fi shows. It's OK... perhaps the Doctor will explain it to me later.
    – JDB
    Dec 30, 2014 at 19:32
  • @JDB - As I said in a comment on DoctorWho22's answer, I think you'd have to watch a video to try to gauge how serious Moffat was about that, he makes plenty of joking comments in interviews and press releases.
    – Hypnosifl
    Dec 30, 2014 at 19:42
  • 1
    Yes... rule #1: The Moffat lies.
    – JDB
    Dec 30, 2014 at 19:43

I think they've been sleeping since the episode "Listen", at the end of that episode the doctor gets a message on a black board. Could that be the Doctor's subconscious trying to tell him he's sleeping from way back then?


The Doctor and Clara have been asleep since very shortly after their return to the Paternoster Gang in the first episode of the series. Because:

1- No head rounds or horrible pain from the cerebral invasions of the brain crabs at end of Christmas Special, ON ANYONE,

2- falling in love (for Danny and Clara) is 'a long story' that was never properly told in series 8 (all the critics are reinforcing what Moffat has planned for later),

3- the Nethersphere was introduced in the first episode of the series, who's plot string was allegedly tied-up by the last episode in the series, and the subsequent appearance of Santa stating, "You know she's not alright",

4- Jenna was to leave the show after series 8, then changed her mind, so the Christmas episode needed a last-minute rewrite,

5- Jenna's departure will be coming in series 9,

6- The Master(/Mistress) is never ever properly obliterated, anymore than the Daleks or the Cybermen...Missy is more likely behind the brain crabs than giving the Doctor a chance to make peace with the gift of an undead army,

7- and finally, if I were Moffat, with a track record of brilliant writing, I'd love to attack the whole "wake-up from a dream and WTF!" script device and obliterate (and my critics) it with a brilliant twist that had never been done before.

Let your mind reel, critics and beware, you might just get what you want. Wanna see Clara die an awful death like a brave, independent female who doesn't need a man? Want to see a truly gifted actor play the Doctor, writhing in the kind of agony that could generate? Wanna see that kind of Doctor truly go off on another truly independent woman (Missy) and emotionally 'draw blood'? Some of Moffat's critics might actually enjoy that.

  • This is completely speculation and opinion based. Only point 4) might be actually correct, according to some BBC sources.
    – tilley31
    Jan 8, 2015 at 18:22
  • 1
    ...also forgot, (8) at the beginning of the end, Jenna's eyes were shown instead of Peter's, indicating this is all Clara's dream, and (9) RULE #1: MOFFAT LIES. Jan 8, 2015 at 18:27
  • That last paragraph was surprisingly prophetic.
    – JDB
    Mar 8, 2016 at 17:52

Re "Therefore"

I agree strongly. Regardless of what Moffat says, the show is what is seen in the show. One can never know the subconscious effect of a writer's mind of a story, and so Moffat's neither. Otherwise, there would be no discipline of Literature.

I suspect that the Doctor & Clara are not out of Dream-Crab influence in the last scene (just as I also suspect (DNF this discussion) that The Master is actually The Rani), & that Santa Claus/Father Christmas/whatever is actually counterfactual.

People spend far too much time inserting Moffat & other writers' intentions in our universe into "facts" of the Doctor Who universe of discourse. How many interpretations has Blake's "Sick Rose"? Which is definitive? None, of course, and so why should Moffat's be so here?


I know I'm a bit late here, but I don't generally watch TV series, and only saw this episode just now, so bare with me. Some people in the comments said that Moffat confirmed the ending as being reality (aka Clara and the Doc are awake). In Moffat's own comment, he says that it was all a set-up by Santa to get the two back together. Ok, so if we go by Moffat's comment/logic, then Santa sicked those crabs upon Clara, the Doctor, and possibly the rest of those people they met in the dream(s). Obviously he had access to everyone's homes, since he's Santa Claus, a magical character and all that, so this begs the question - is Santa Claus really the jolly, good fellow that everyone believes him to be? Because the crabs are obviously disgusting and dangerous, and at least one of the dreamers died from them (provided the dreamers even existed), as we saw. It just doesn't seem like something Santa would do, even if for the greater(?) good.

  • This should be a new question.
    – Obsidia
    Apr 27, 2018 at 23:56

I believe the dream crabs took effect earlier as well, and as further evidence, I believe I remember the doctor and Clara both answering different questions throughout the season with "long story."

Also, the Mistress didn't regenerate when shot By the cyberman. That should have happened.

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